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Joseph Kahaneman

(1888 – 1969)

Joseph Kahaneman (popularly known as the "Ponevezher Rav") was a rabbi and yeshivah head, founder of the talmudic educational complex in *Bene Berak, Israel. As a young man, Kahaneman studied in the yeshivah of Telz. The rosh ha-yeshivah, Eliezer *Gordon, had a lifelong influence on Kahaneman. For ever after, whenever Kahaneman made reference to "der rov," he meant Rabbi Gordon. After Telz, he spent a short time in the musar yeshivah of Navarodok. From there he went to join the kolel of the Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim in Radin. It was there that Kahaneman became close with Rabbi Elḥanan *Wasserman and Rabbi Ḥayyim *Soloveitchik of Brisk. In 1910 he married the daughter of another famous Lithuanian rabbi, Aryeh Leib Rubin. In 1916 he was appointed head of the yeshivah of Grodno, where his outstanding organizing abilities soon became evident. Possessed of a dynamic and winning personality, he devoted himself not only to the development of the yeshivah, but also to the establishment of similar centers of learning throughout Lithuania, among them a preparatory yeshivah in Ponevezh. On the death of Isaac Rabinowitz, the rabbi of Ponevezh, in 1919, Kahaneman was appointed his successor. He opened a yeshivah which after the attainment of Lithuania's independence became one of the largest in the country. In addition to his preoccupation with the yeshivah, in which he lectured twice a week, and whose material needs he personally looked after, Kahaneman was active in many spheres of communal endeavor. He was a leader of *Agudat Israel and an elected member of the Lithuanian parliament. He established a Talmud Torah attended by 400 children and a preparatory yeshivah to serve as a feeder for the main institution.

Kahaneman was on a mission abroad when World War II broke out. In 1940 he settled in Ereẓ Israel and from there directed efforts, in vain, toward the rescue of Lithuanian Jewry from the Nazis. Most of his family perished in the Holocaust. Thereafter, he devoted himself to reestablishing in Ereẓ Israel a network of Torah institutions. In 1943 he established Batei Avot, an orphanage for refugee children. At the end of 1944 he laid the foundation of the Ponevezh Yeshivah in Bene Berak with seven students. Over the years, he traveled throughout the Jewish world to enlist financial support for his ambitious venture. The result was Kiryat Ponevezh, where more than 1,000 students have studied and which has included hostels for children and adults, a large library, and a memorial to Lithuanian Jewry. He instituted the yarḤei kallah, an annual summer refresher course in talmudic studies for adults. All this, he stated, he did "with 21 fingers," those of his hands and feet and the finger of God. In later years, he established a branch yeshivah in the development town of Ashdod. He was widely revered among all sections of the population. Kahaneman was among those approached by Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to answer the question, "Who is a Jew?" In his answer, Kahaneman wrote, "I see the vision of the return to Zion in our generation as the revelation of the light of divine providence, which strengthens our hand and accompanies us through the evil waters that have risen against us … I see miracles every moment, every hour! I am sure that His Honor [i.e., Ben-Gurion] sees the thing as I do, for who like the ship's captain standing at the wheel of the ship sees these miracles." Kahaneman also viewed the Six-Day War as a miracle. The Ponevezh Yeshivah in Bene Berak and its sister institution in Ashdod have thrived along with the communities Kahaneman built around them. In 1989 and again in 2003, collections of Kahaneman's writings and lectures were published, Koveẓ Shi'urim ve-Ḥidushei Torah and Sefer Divrei ha-Rav, respectively.


A. Avnon (ed.), Ishim be-Yisrael (1966), 154; D. Lipez et al. (eds.), Sefer Yahadut Lita (1960), index; S. Kol, Eḥad be-Doro, 2 vols. (1970). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Sorasky, Ha-Rav mi-Ponevezh, 3 vols. (1999); Y. Schwartz, Ha-Rav mi-Ponevezh (1997).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.